Belfast Telegraph

Fraud shame of ex-Alliance councillor Clarke

Suspended prison term for ex-Alliance man who took community group cash

By Paul Higgins

A disgraced former Alliance councillor who defrauded his local community group and used a hammer to damage his neighbour's property has avoided jail.

Giving Patrick Joseph Clarke a seven-month jail term, suspended for three years, at Downpatrick Magistrates Court, District Judge Greg McCourt warned the 41-year-old that if he committed any further offences or breached his probation order again "you will go to prison and will start with seven months in addition to whatever other penalty".

Yesterday's hearing marks the end of a tumultuous period for the Newry and Mourne District councillor, who sits as an independent, having previously been elected with the Alliance Party.

Clarke, from Mill Hill Court in Castlewellan, had three cases before the court yesterday relating to fraud by abuse of position, criminal damage, possessing a hammer with intent to cause criminal damage and breaching the terms of a probation and community service order that was previously imposed for a further offence of fraud by abuse of position.

A prosecuting lawyer said the councillor defrauded Dundrum Village Association of £750 in September 2014 by lodging a cheque from the Housing Executive meant for the village group into his own account.

That offence came to light on September 3 last year and when police arrested and interviewed Clarke almost three weeks later he made "full admissions".

The court heard that on September 5 officers called to a different incident near Clarke's home heard "raised voices from the communal stairwell". When they went to investigate Clarke's neighbour claimed he had "forced his way in" and, armed with a hammer, had smashed a ceramic cup.

Arrested and interviewed, Clarke again admitted what he had done.

Previous courts have heard the councillor's breach of probation was a result of him failing to turn up for community service work - an order imposed for a different fraud in June last year.

Clarke admitted swindling almost £2,000 from Drumaroad Community Regeneration Scheme.

A prosecuting lawyer said Clarke had been made chairman of the Drumaroad Community Regeneration Limited company, whose purpose was to raise funds to finance the rebuilding of a local church hall.

Clarke took control of documents and cheque books "for safe keeping", but in November 2012 a fellow director discovered there was no money in the account.

Police found that nine cheques had been forged and the signatures of other directors had been forged by Clarke, said the prosecutor. In total, the politician had swindled £1,964 out of the community organisation.

Clarke eventually pleaded guilty to eight charges of committing fraud by abusing the position he held with Drumaroad Community Regeneration Limited.

He admitted five further charges of fraud by false representation, all committed between May 30 and August 16, 2010.

Also in the last year Clarke received a year's probation after he admitted drunkenly sexually assaulting a woman at a Christmas function in the Slieve Donard Hotel.

Defence barrister Niamh McCartney told the court yesterday that Clarke had repaid all the monies he had stolen and was now re-engaging with the Probation Service, which was helping him to face up to his mental health difficulties and issues arising from his childhood, and had been "free from police attention".

Belfast Telegraph


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